The Elqui Valley - Land Of Sun, Wine & Stars

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

When googling the ‘must do’ places and experiences of Chile as a backpacker, you’ll read endless articles, blogs and guides on tracking through Patagonia, the colourful streets of Valparaíso and the mars-like landscapes of the Atacama Desert. Whilst these are justified and noteworthy entrants to a Chile Top 5, the Elqui Valley should be right up there with them. In our opinion this region, famous for its wine and perfectly clear nights, is nothing short of a ‘must-do’ for anyone travelling through Chile.

We left our hostel in La Serena around midday and head for the nearest bus stop, where once again we muddled our way through some Spanish, ending up on a bus we only hoped would be heading into the valley. We’d booked a hostel about 9km outside of Vicuña in a tiny village called La Campana, which proved a challenge explaining to the bus driver, who decided to drop us off much further down the road, leaving us to choose a direction and walk until we found civilisation. It was the first and hopefully the last time we are to be dropped off in the desert with minimal food and water. With the help of (life saver!) we got to the hostel half an hour later, tired and hangry, so we cooked up the rest of our pasta and took a well needed rest. 

The owner of the hostel Amador was delighted that’d we’d made it there alright and immediately started explaining about the energy of the valley and the endless possibilities of activities there were to enjoy. He was so passionate and sold it to us so well that right there and then we asked to extend our stay to 4 nights! 

So, without further or do, here’s what we got up to and our recommendations of how to spend your time here, in the wonderful Elqui Valley.

  1. Exploring Vicuña 

Guidebooks will suggest that this is the best place to stay in the valley, making a good base for day and night trips around the local area. We’d agree, and if we’d not have found our hostel on last minute, we too would have certainly opted for staying somewhere within Vicuña. Its a small town although large compared to surrounding villages and at least big enough to host a decent supermarket, many restaurants, cafes and boutique shops. In this peaceful town we found a couple of hidden gems with the help of our hostel, so here they are:


Govinda’s is a vegetarian restaurant found in the main square of Vicuña, although a little less obvious as it is on the second floor. They have a set menu with only 2 options. The first is designed at groups of people it seemed, offering a number of different small vegetarian dishes to share. The second is the ‘special’ and changes daily, being risotto when we were there. The food was the best I’d had in Chile so far, especially for the price. Only 3500 pesos for the meal and an extra 1000 for fresh pineapple juice. Bargain.

Vicuña Hill

The owner of our hostel told us about a small hill in Vicuña which we could climb up to get great views of the valley. He promised us that it was a really easy walk and many ‘passengers’ had done it before. To find the start of the walk, take the road heading for the cemetery at the edge of town, then around the left handside of the cemetery wall follow what looks like what could be a path (it feels wrong, but it is the right way). Cross the ittle bridge and then follow up the path to the top. It is a bit scrambly so best to be done in walking boots or trainers (not flip-flops!) The following 2 photos should help you find the way...

    2. Diaguitas

Guayacán Microbrewery 

In Diaguitas you’ll find Guaycán’s beer garden where you can sit back, relax and try ‘la cerveza del Valle de Elqui’. It’s fairly cheap, there’s a really nice atmosphere and it’s the perfect stop off point if you’re cycling through the valley.

Diaguitas cafe

We stumbled upon this place in Diaguitas, hungry and struggling to find somewhere to eat. Originally we walked past the front door assuming it was shut, although on our second time around we spotted a sign asking to knock to be let in. So, we knocked, we were let in, we ordered an amazing vegetarian lasagne and we ate. It’s not cheap, at about £8 a meal, but the meals were large and we shared the lasagne and were still full.

Special stone walk

We aren’t really superstitious types, nor are we excited by stones, therefore it was somewhat unsurprising that the special stone came to us as a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless the walk there made it ‘vale la pena’, as by walking into the mountains you feel true tranquility like no other. 

ABA distillery

Pisco is often the local drink of choice and no better place to learn more about how it’s made as well as try some free samples than at this distillery. Free tours run all the time in both English and Spanish, just turn up and you’ll join a group. The last about 20 mins with all important taste testing at the end!

And finally...

Go cycling!

I´m quite into cycling but it´s fair to say that Lissa isn´t, however even she will admit that had such a great time cycling through the valley. The roads are great and its never too far to get between one village to the next. The weather is guarrenteed to be perfect and, if you plan your route right, there are many beer and pisco stops to be had along the way!

Where we stayed...

We stayed in an excellent hostel called Hostel Al Yaras and we couldn´t rave about it more. The owner Amador is so welcoming and enthusiastic he makes you feel at home straight away. It really was one f those experiences where you are bursting to tell everyone about it heading that way so that they can understand what you{re talking about. It was a little over budget at about $20US a night, but well worth it. Plus the breakfast is second to none!


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